On September 13, 2001, Dan Vandersteen got a call from Cindy Kok in the Broene Counseling Center to inform him of an open counseling position at Calvin. However, Vandersteen got another call the next day to see if he could drive to New York City and provide crisis care counseling for those impacted by 9/11. That Sunday, he drove to New York City and spent a week counseling people with emotional trauma from the tragic day.
“That changed my life in many ways. It was overwhelming,” he recalled. “When I came back, I decided to send my application [to Broene]. After my first interview, I decided that this was where I really wanted to be.”
Thus, Vandersteen began his counseling career at Calvin in January 2002. He had previously worked for Child Protective Services for the state of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Public School system as a principal and administrator, and Pine Rest as a counselor.
Born in the Netherlands, Vandersteen immigrated to Canada at the age of three. He dropped out of high school as a 16-year-old but returned at age 20 to finish. He started attending Calvin when he was 22 and graduated at 26 in 1970. He then got his master’s in social work at Western Michigan University in 1973.
It was talking to fellow students in the Calvin residence halls that awakened his love for counseling. “When I was in the dorm the first year, I really enjoyed listening and talking with people,” he said. “I did get work part-time at Pine Rest during my college years, and I think that really influenced me, as well as psychology and sociology classes.”
The draft for the Vietnam War was still active while Vandersteen was at Calvin. When Vandersteen’s suitemate, a close friend, dropped out of Calvin, he was drafted and killed in Vietnam. Those were hard times for Vandersteen, but he appreciated being able to talk to his suitemate and others about life’s issues. “I’m honored when people are willing to share their pain--it’s a gift,” he said.
In his retirement, Vandersteen plans on traveling with his wife, Judy, volunteering with the Red Cross’ mental health services, and being involved in the Calvin Prison Initiative. He will also be spending time with his three daughters, five granddaughters and his grandson.
Vandersteen loved working with Calvin students and is grateful to have been part of a community that strengthened him as a counselor. “In a way they hold you accountable. You have to be authentic and know what you’re talking about,” he said. “It’s a gift [and] an honor. I’ve been very blessed being a counselor and being at Calvin,” he said.
He hopes Calvin will continue to be a place of strong community. “Our culture emphasizes individualism, but God created us with a strong desire to belong. We need to keep working at being a part of that community and accepting others who are different into that community,” he said.